This is a crazy country. Sometimes I think you have to be crazy to love it and I'm usually too cynical to admit it, but yeah, I do. I miss it when I'm away and despite the insanity of living here, sometimes it's the only place that makes sense to me. I love talking to people from my generation, knowing we share the same experiences, feeling we've been through it all together.
When I started this blog, I thought I'd write about Israeli wines and try to put into words how I felt about them but it's harder than I thought, though of course I've written that long post about the Katzrin Chardonnay. It's relatively easy for me to analyze what I don't like about French wines or whatever but for good or bad, my approach towards Israeli wines is never as clinical.
I still don't think I've really nailed down my issues with Israeli wines but let's just review my list of complaints and see what I've got.
The Wines Themselves
Apparently, Israeli weather is fairly consistent. Sugar ripeness is never a problem, though you hear complaints about phenolic ripeness from winemakers, consumers and critics alike. I really can't speak on the subject from a technical point of view but I can tell you how the wines taste: ripe, a bit too sweet for my tastes, with rarely the savouriness and mineralliness that I look for. While I loved their style a few years ago, I've outgrown it.
All too often Israeli wines say more about the people who made them than about the land they come from but that's just an observation, not a critique. Despite that, they're recognizably Israeli, I'll give them that. At their best they have rich noses with decent complexity and the palate can at times be balanced though it's rarely as good as the nose. They don't age for very long, except for Golan Heights Winery's Cabernets.
I appreciate the fact that visitors like them. I would too. If I were a visitor. But try living with a steady diet and there's a sameness about them that will wear you out.
Let me start off by saying some of these wines are too warmly received, too eagerly compared with the classic models they're based on, too highly scored, by people who should know better. And these days I for one know better. A few years ago, we could still be fooled by a Castel GV in the midst of a Bordeaux tasting but I would like to see if that could happen again. The last time I attended a Bordeaux/Israel face-off, no one mistook an Israeli red for a Bordeaux. Style-wise and, I'm sad to say, quality-wise as well.
The hype turns me off. It's as plain as that. I read various Israeli boards and when I see people waxing poetic about local wines, I really have to wonder. Did we really taste the same wines? Do we have a shared context for comparison?
I think the creative people who make wine deserve better (flattering though the hype may be). They deserve honest criticism by people with discerning palates and brains because people who can't see the wines' faults will never truly be moved by great wines. They'll never appreciate the progress I believe Israeli growers and winemakers will make. Though I'm sure everyone appreciates the effect of positive criticism on sales and maybe I'd be less idealistic about all this if I had to think about the bottom line.
I have two tests for prices. The first one judges the wine's quality when tasted and then looks at the price. Basically, I ask myself, given a wine's quality and what I usually pay for wines of similar quality, would I buy it? Israel produces a decent quantity of wines who pass this first test.
The second test is whether I think the price is reasonable, and the answer to that question depends on many factors. I don't think premium Israeli wines are reasonably priced because as far as I'm concerned, any Israeli wine that costs more than 25 USD should have a track record for aging potential. Now I realize that some of the few wineries that have managed to build up such a track record charged the same prices before they built up their record, but I can't fix history and now that they've earned their prices so to speak, they can keep them.
With very few exceptions, the Israeli reds I've tasted didn't thrive past their fifth year post-vintage. For wines costing 25 USD, a wine should have some aging potential. If I have to put up with a short life, hey, there's a few nice Barberas I've had my eye on lately (and they might outlive Israeli reds of the same vintage at that).
The Proof Is In The Pudding
I don't like to drink leftovers so any wine remaining in the bottle (which is usally the case if we don't have guests over) goes into a bottle of accumulated leftovers for cooking purposes. Israeli bottles wind up leaving the most leftovers and usually take longer to actually drink because they plain tire out my palate.